Let's say your goal at the beginning of year was to run five days each week and train for a specified half marathon…
Without habits in place, your thought pattern might sound something like this: (Morning alarm goes off.) It’s 6:00 am. I better get up if I want to run this morning. Well, maybe I’ll just sleep another half hour. (One hour passes, and you roll over to look at the time.) Oh no! I’m going to be late for work if I exercise now. I’ll just go after work. And… maybe my husband can pick up the kids after school from soccer practice! (Five o’clock rolls around.) Time to go to the gym! Oh wait, we had dinner plans with mom. I’ll just squeeze in my run after dinner. (Dinner runs a tad over. Once home, it’s time for bedtime routines and snuggles — during which you try your best to avoid glancing at the clock every few seconds.) Aaaah. The kids are in bed! Time to relax! Except… I was going to run. Well, I’m pretty tired. Maybe I’ll run tomorrow.
Face it. Decision-making can be exhausting. I got tired just reading that paragraph!
However, if you use habits to your advantage, the day looks a little different: (Morning alarm goes off.) It’s 6:00 am. Time to get up for my morning run. (So you get up as part of your morning routine and go for a run.)
Good habits energize us by taking the guesswork out of the everyday, mundane decision-making. If you want exercise to be routine, pick a time to hit the gym that fits your family’s lifestyle and schedule — and go with it! Want to read more? Make it a habit of reading fifteen minutes before bedtime instead of scrolling through the Facebook homepage. Was one of your health goals to cook more and eat less takeout? Give weekly meal planning a try.
Good habits help us think less about things that don’t matter and do more about things that do matter.
So you’ve decided you want to form some new habits and give those S.M.A.R.T.Y. goals a second chance. Here’s what to do next:
- Start by choosing one goal that’s top priority to you and needs a “habit makeover.” Take note — I think this works especially well with physical, intellectual, and spiritual goals. For example, your goal is to lose 10 pounds by September. While you have no problem eating balanced meals throughout the day, once the evening rolls around — the binging and cravings for anything sweet and salty come on full force. The undesirable habit might be “I crave and eat too many snacks after dinnertime when I watch TV.”
- Think about HOW your life will be improved if you replace the undesirable habit with a desirable one. Jot down your thoughts on a piece of paper or in a journal.
- Write down the new, desirable habit you're starting somewhere you can see it. So if you are trying to nip those nighttime cravings in the bud, you might consider writing “No snacking after 7 PM” on a sticky note on your fridge.
- Find an accountability partner. Maybe it’s your spouse, a roommate, someone at your gym, a mentor, or a friend. Just find someone who can give you some tough love or encouragement when you need it most.
- Write down small steps you can take towards forming this new habit. In the example, you may consider going for a walk when the craving strikes, calling up a friend to chat, turning off the TV to garden outside, or stopping to pray and ask God to remove the craving.
- Keep track of your progress. At the beginning of each day, remind yourself of what habit you are trying to accomplish. At the end of the day, write down one way you made progress and one way you can improve tomorrow.
- Repeat. Once the desired behaviour becomes automatic, repeat steps 1-6 as many times as needed to form additional habits and accomplish your S.M.A.R.T.Y. goals.
Remember — habits are not formed overnight! In one research study, Phillippa Lally and her research colleagues found that it took 66 days on average before a new behaviour ran on auto-pilot — and that’s just an average. It actually took participants anywhere from 18 to 254 days before new habits were formed. That being said, don’t be intimidated by those numbers. If the goals you’ve written and the habits you want to form can truly lead to a happier and healthier life, they’re worth pursuing. They are worth the extra effort. Those habits are worth starting today.